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The Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

The novel, Alice in Wonderland was a classic and it was a great book especially for children of all ages. It is a story about a young girl named Alice, who gets dragged into a magical wonderland filled with all types of creatures from the Cheshire cat to the Queen of Hearts. However, the history and the reality behind this beautiful novel isn’t known by everyone.

The Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a rare condition that causes temporary episodes of distorted perception and disorientation. This condition is so rare that it can It is also known as Todd’s syndrome as it was first noticed by Dr.John.Todd, a British consultant psychiatrist in 1955.

He found that most of his patients had severe headaches and this caused them to perceive objects which weren’t in proportion. The visual perception of these patients seemed distorted. The most peculiar fact was that, despite these people having migraine headaches none of them had brain tumours or any other mental illness with the same symptoms.

They could think lucidly and could also differentiate between reality and hallucinations but only their perception was affected. The well-known author, Lewis Carroll also was diagnosed with the same condition, that is severe migraines with visual distortion. At that time Dr. Todd speculated that, Carroll’s experiences with the condition were the main source of inspiration behind the book Alice in Wonderland.  The name of this syndrome thus arose from the novel’s main protagonist Alice. Throughout the book she experiences many body sizes and also different visual perceptions.

When one is affected with this condition, they may feel larger or smaller than they actually are. This sensation is known as Macropsia or Micropsia. When they feel that their own body or objects around them are becoming smaller, it is called Micropsia and when they feel that their own body or objects around them are becoming larger, it is called Macropsia.

Pelopsia, is the sensation which they experience when they feel as if the furniture that surrounds them in a room keeps moving away or is much closer to them. Migraines are the most common symptom of all in a patient who is diagnosed with the Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

Some researchers believe that AWS is an aura for migraine, however some believe that it is a subtype of migraines. Individuals with this condition may also seem to lose a sense of time.

They feel as if time seems to move faster or slower. They also experience Metamorphopsia which causes linear things such as lines to look curvy or bent to one’s eyes.  These episodes happen because of the way in which the brain perceives the environment one is in.

The above are the most common and main symptoms in this rare condition. When one is having an episode of AIWS, the symptoms which may accompany the episode may include fever, migraine episodes and sometimes even epileptic seizures which effect only certain parts of the brain.

It usually effects children and young adults but there are also chances that one can experience them during adulthood as well. The prognosis for the Alice in Wonderland syndrome varies as it can happen few or more times in a single day but there are patients who haven’t seen any symptoms for a very long time.

 

There are 3 main categories of the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome which are:

  • Type A: Disorders are somaesthetic or sensory related.
  • Type B: The visual senses get affected
  • Type C: There is a mix of Type A and Type B as well.

In a study in the year 2012, it was found that there are more Type C cases in adults and more of Type B cases in youngsters.

Psychiatrists and other doctors are still doing research on what causes AWS as it isn’t a problem with one’s eyes, not a hallucination, nor a mental or neurological illness. Some of the reasons they found which were attributed to the condition were that unusual electrical activity in the brain causes abnormal blood flow to parts of the brain which are responsible for handling and experiencing visual perception.

Some of the other common reasons behind which, a person could develop the Alice in Wonderland syndrome is stress, usage of Hallucinogenic drugs, epilepsy, stroke and head trauma. In adults, the risk factors are Migraines but in children the risk factors are Infections. This may be an early sign of the Epstein-Bar virus. However, the most common risk factor is Genetics. If there is a family history of migraines or AWS, the individual has a higher chance of developing the condition.

The diagnosis for the Alice in Wonderland syndrome can take place through an MRI scan which is a device that produces highly detailed images of tissues and organs including the brain. An EEG machine can also be used. This machine is used to measure the electrical activity in one’s brain. Thus, as mentioned before, if there is any unusual electrical activity which is one of the causes for the Alice in Wonderland syndrome, it can be detected through the EEG machine. Blood tests can also be conducted by doctors, to find out if AWS is a sign of any viral infections.

Other than the book Alice in Wonderland which was written by Lewis Carroll, other books have also got inspiration from the syndrome. In Jonathan Swift’s book, the Gulliver Travels which is another classic novel, one of the symptoms of the syndrome which is Micropsia comes to light. It was termed as Lilliput Sight or Lilliput Hallucination.

Though the symptoms include distortion, it isn’t a very serious condition. There isn’t any treatment, that is it isn’t direct but it also involves identifying and treating the causes which lie under it. It was believed that anti-psychotics could be administered to the patients who are suffering from this problem These symptoms which are experienced usually disappear as one reaches their adulthood.

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Written by Nivetha Srinath

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